Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in:  Talking Point: Debates: European
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 9 November, 2001, 19:07 GMT
Should the media back the government in wartime?
Tony Blair has acted to reassure the media that he doesn't see the raising of doubts about war aims or civilian casualties as appeasement.

He said it was in fact a sign of democracy that such concerns were raised.

But parts of the European media don't feel so free to voice their criticisms. Some say they've been accused of defeatism for not sounding "gung ho" enough.

Should the press side with their governments in times of war and in the light of the events of September 11th? Are some media outlets contributing to a defeatist attitude?

For this Europewide Debate, Europe Today's Mark Reid brought together Christina Gallach, the spokeswoman for the EU's foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, and a journalist with the London Guardian newspaper, Ben Wegg-Prosser.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The media have the responsibility to report the facts from the battlefield in as objective a manner as possible, and to allow the viewers and readers to arrive at their own conclusions.
Christopher Flores, California, USA

The media should report only facts, and not "make it more readable", or "interpret the facts" for the people served. Doing so merely invites overlaying the events with the reporter's personal biases. This distorts accuracy in what the people can find out about the events, and allows the politically and economically powerful to twist knowledge to their own ends. One need only remember Hitler's Germany to see the effect of such twisted reporting, or look at Iraq's reporting on the Kurdish people's situation today. We must not allow such bias to enter into any decisions, personal, professional or political, and the media must be the first line of defence against the possibility. Freedom of speech does not mean permission to deceive. It carries a very heavy burden of responsibility to be accurate in what is said. The people can interpret for themselves what is important, and they can also be trusted to act appropriately on that information.
Bill, USA

Even if news reporting affects the ability to fight a war, this surely does not in itself justify restrictions, unless you have already assumed that the war in question is justified. And to be able to decide the validity of that assumption, you need access to all the information. We should be allowed to think for ourselves or we will forget how to do this - a great danger to any country! I agree that the media should cite their sources of information and distinguish fact from opinion - but then, governments are at least as guilty of this as the media.
Peter Barber, England

Report the truth and let the people decide who to side with

George, USA
The media's duty is not to be a side in a war, but to inform the public about what is going on. Report the truth and let the people decide who to side with. The press should never become a propaganda tool of the government. If the government is waging an illegitimate war, the public has the right to know the truth, not the claims of the government. To the contrary, the duty of the press is to disclose what is not being disclosed by the government even during a war. Never let the truth be a casualty of the war.
George, USA

What? Since when hasn't the media sided with its government during a time of war? Governments have always pressured the media, which in turn has made the media never being truly free in providing objective reporting.
Dan A, EU, Sweden

So far we have had anthrax panic aplenty, a smattering of the possibility of nuclear holocaust, and so on. It may not be the media's responsibility to support the government, since it after all a free press. It is however the media's responsibility to put things in perspective, and stop causing widespread panic in the hope of selling a few more copies.
Duncan, England

If it is a fight for the country's survival, then yes. Otherwise No, freedom of speech and the media to scrutinise government actions are vital in many democracies. For example if the media did support the government would we hear about the civilian casualties? I don't think so.

Failure by the media to scrutinise the war effort and civilian casualties would give the government(s) a blank check to do as they like in Afghanistan.
Andrew C, England

The enemy often gets all the intelligence and propaganda it needs from our own media

Will Lever, UK
The media have certain weaknesses which can be detrimental to a country, especially in times of war: the tendency to sensationalise and reduce to sound bites; a lack of discretion and sometimes even integrity in being the first to get the story - which has often resulted in the deaths of our own armed forces. The enemy often gets all the intelligence and propaganda it needs from our own media.

Freedom also requires responsibility. If the press do not take a more responsible view in reporting these situations, especially with the increased importance of "hearts and minds" in these types of conflict, then reluctantly I would accept that the government would be justified in temporarily placing limitations on the media.

It has only been a few weeks in what we all knew would not be an overnight operation - let our armed forces and politicians get on with the job without being prematurely undermined.
Will Lever, UK

Some in the media contributing to the defeatist attitude? Rather the overwhelming majority of media paint the war news with deep hues of defeatism and scepticism. The terrorists couldn't have found a better ally than the media. It's somewhat difficult to find a single network that is fair, balanced and reports news with appropriate story proportion overall. It seems the networks want people to remain scared, want people to expect the worst - indeed they seem to want civilisation to lose to the terrorists. I wager their marketing experts predict better ratings that way.
Stephen, USA

The media's responsibility is to report the truth, even if it is not favourable to the government

Peter, Netherlands
The media are part of the society they operate in. If that society is attacked, they are attacked. The requirements of responsible reporting follow from this basic premise. In a democratic society, the media will betray their responsibility if they allow themselves to be used to transmit enemy propaganda aimed at undermining the determination of their society to win the war. At minimum, the media should verify their information and name their sources if possible.

On the other hand, the media need not allow themselves to be made the handmaiden of their government in all situations. It remains their responsibility to report the truth, even if it is not favourable to the government -- political democracy demands it. The only restriction should be the need to protect the country's ability to pursue the war.
Peter, Netherlands

Listen now both sides of the debate
See also:

30 Oct 01 | UK Politics
We will not falter, says Blair
30 Oct 01 | Europe
European press review
29 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Who is winning the war?
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more European stories